~ Flow Master: Fortier ~
ften unbeknownst to even die-hard clubgoers, techno, house, and even some strains of “progressive” got their start right here in America. That last one’s hard to swallow for followers of British and European prog kings such as Sasha, John Digweed, and Sander Kleinenberg. Truth is, the forward-thinking sounds of progressive, an electronic offshoot of slower, soulful house music, were forged in the imaginations of DJs who flew back and forth between the U.K. and Florida in the early ’90s. It’s a truly transatlantic sound, if not a product of the entire globe. As early as 15 years ago, young DJs such as Kimball Collins and progressive pioneer Chris Fortier were laying down their own vision of post-house music on two turntables in Orlando.
Back in 1993, Digweed says, he traveled to Orlando, at the time a burgeoning rave underground, where a small middle-class community of DJs set up shop at clubs such as Aahz, Metro, and Simon’s in nearby Gainesville. “I’m playing with Dave Cannalte, Kimball Collins, and I’m meeting people like Chris Fortier,” he says. “We’re all into the same thing musically. They’d be showing me stuff that I hadn’t heard of and vice versa.”
Fortier, a dance-music fan from the coastal town of Melbourne, moved to Orlando to attend the University of Central Florida. But as the ’90s dawned, he was studying the spin sessions of local legend Collins and holding down his own residency at Metro. Collins had begun bringing British DJs he had seen at U.K. club Renaissance – Sasha and Dave Seaman – to Florida for gigs. Digweed soon followed. The Brits bonded with Fortier and fellow jock Jimmy Van M – they often exchanged music – and they have maintained close ties ever since. Fortier cofounded a Digweed-revering record pool called Balance, and also helps run a spin-off booking office, The Collective Agency, that handles the world’s top prog-house spinners. When Sasha and Digweed landed at New York’s Twilo in 1997 for perhaps the era’s greatest DJ residency, Fortier and Van M followed, also earning marquee slots at the club’s hallowed decks and later moving to New York full-time. In 1999, Fortier scored one of the biggest underground hits of the last 10 years when his remix work on Delirium’s “Silence,” featuring the voice of Sarah McLachlan, hit the clubs.
Fortier has continued to thrive, constantly touring the globe’s dance floors – he has 35 stops scheduled between May and August 20, including a Hollywood performance on June 17 – and churning out a new mix-CD, Balance 007, that officially marks the end of the progressive era and the beginning of the new “tech-house” generation. “You see the track list and say wow, these are techno artists,” says the 34-year-old Fortier.
“I’m just trying to find music that is exciting to me,” he says. “I don’t want to sit back and settle. I want it fresh and moving forward.”
The sleeveless-T-shirt-sporting fans of dark progressive, tribal house, and trance have sent many top progressive DJs running for something fresh. Buenos Aires’ Hernan Cattaneo, as well as Dutchman Kleinenberg and Digweed himself, have all touched on the more minimal, cantankerous sounds of techno. (Diggers touts Germany’s Kompakt as a favorite label.) But only Fortier has burned the envelope, embracing techno full-on, and leaving 10-minute tracks with huge break-downs and melodramatic vocal interludes back in the ’90s, where they belong. Balance 007, released earlier this month, is amazingly melodic and fluid, taking the 808 thud and omnipresent hi-hats of techno’s past and adding sublime, sustained synths and fluid waves of bouncing bass. “This is definitely more of a statement than anything else I’ve ever done,” Fortier says.
For Balance 007, Fortier took a page out of Sasha’s book, similarly using the Ableton Live software program to mesh songs together on a track-by-track (bass, drums, synth) level. But, while Sasha ended up with a 10-song gem of a collection in last year’s Involver, Fortier has a three-disc, 21-song, after-hours opus. He took great pains to make the disc flow, and it’s indeed difficult to figure out where one song ends and another begins.
“There’s tons of editing, taking beats from one and adding them to another,” Fortier says. “It’s something that needs to be done if you’re trying to sculpt music, which is basically how I look at it – creating something of an orchestra of its own kind. While it’s futuristic, it’s also reflective of everything I’ve been into for the last 15 years.”